The first Anna May I ever knew was an elephant at the Big Apple Circus, named in honor of America’s first female Asian American star, Anna May Wong.
Born this day in 1905, Wong was a minor film star from the 1920s through the 1940s who fought against stereotypes and sometimes, of necessity, worked with them. She was almost exclusively a film actress (as opposed to a live performer) but she often depicted the kinds of performers one might find on the fabled Chop Suey Circuit (as in the clip below).
And she did occasionally make vaudeville tours to promote her film career during the twenties and early thirties. After an extraordinary, pathbreaking career, she died of heart failure in 1961.
Here she is in Picadilly (1929):
To find out more about performing arts history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent film don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc